by Sasha Dugdale


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Joy by Sasha Dugdale

The poems in Joy mark a new departure for Sasha Dugdale, who expresses in poetry a hitherto ‘silent’ dialogue which she began as an editor of Modern Poetry in Translation with writers such as Don Mee Choi, Kim Hyesoon, Maria Stepanova and Svetlana Alexeivich. Dugdale combines an open interest in the historical fate of women and in the treacherous fictional shaping of history. In the abundant, complex and not always easy range of voices in Joy she attempts to redress the linear nature of remembrance and history and restore the ‘maligned and misaligned’.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784105037
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 12/01/2017
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

About the Author

Sasha Dugdale is a poet, translator and playwright. She has published three collections of poetry with Carcanet, Notebook, The Estate, and Red House. In 2017 she was awarded a Cholmondeley Prize. Between 2012 and 2017 she was editor of Modern Poetry in Translation. She is co-director of the Winchester Poetry Festival.

Read an Excerpt



A dark stage. A woman in a rocking chair. Catherine Blake.


They don't want me here ... they don't want me ...

An old woman, getting in their way, under their feet.

Look what the cat brought in. An ancient orphan, no future to bless her.

A sparrow, a spider, a nothing.

Good for nothing. And nothing will come of nothing ... And nothing will come of me now ... A nothing left in darkness ...

This is how it is. This is how it has been always. A parting.

We are parted

The fibres of our souls are spread. They cling –

A tear. A tear. And a tearing.

I am a rent shirt ... I am a poor man's shirt and a pair of woollen stockings and a patched jacket thrown from the hearse ... Every breeze shudders me ... And no one wants me ...

How I ache ... How I ache ... How I ache ...

Nine days I laboured, nine days and nights I laboured, and on the tenth he gave me my freedom, singing. And my freedom was a wicker basket for the husks of shells. My freedom was a quilt of unspoken words ...

looks around

A foreign kitchen, a winter light.

Seagulls very high in the clouds. How I ache.

A foreign hearth in London. My freedom is someone else's hearth in his town. The tenth day is drawing to a close. How I ache.

And he is gone, fled singing to some place I cannot reach. His angels came and he sang to them and they told him they needed him more than I did ... Merciless, merciless angels ... Merciless angels who know nothing of human despair. And he went with them. He nodded and spoke mild words and was soon gone ... And he left a shadow of grime on his collar and a warm bed. And the angels had tall wings, like steeples, or like sails and spread white like the King's ship in dock, and they took him, only I couldn't see them, but I know how they looked, for hadn't he spent all his life in their company and mine? And didn't they sometimes appear in white like good children, and sometimes like ladies but barefoot, with rosy pink staining their necks and hands and ringlets in their hair? Their sighs were angel swords and their smiles were beams of light. He smiled at me, as if to say can't you see how bonny they are today, on this, my deathday, and there's the whole pity of it, for I couldn't see, and I never could.

And then the men took all his possessions and I could have sold the carpenter's glass and the copper and the pigments for I was wily like that but they said not to worry in my grief and they would provide for me although what was the providing to them when I eat like a bird and I can still keep house and they don't want me, they don't want me and they never will want me, no one will want me as he wanted me.

He wanted me. And his want is gone with him. And isn't that the ordinary way of things? When as a child I saw the widow ladies in their black bonnets following the coffins, didn't I laugh a little laugh to myself, because nothing so ordinary as a widowing could happen to me, armed with my black hair and black eyes. I walked out on my lover's walks in Battersea, where the wind from the river comes sweeping in and knocks the black bonnets and tears the handkerchiefs from their hands, those spider ladies creeping along behind their hearse. And I was the wind. The pitiless wind ...

Laughs silently

I told him I pitied him! A lie. A lie to feast upon, because no man, no man in London could have pitied him. And he said he would love me

and it was as good as done then, my widowing

sealed to me.

I could have sewn a strip of black to my clothes every single day. Here ... And here ... and here ... (she clutches at her arms and her breasts) and here ... because he made my terrible widowing his life's business.

... Gone. Singing. Will I forgive him that singing ... Singing like fruit breaking from its bud. And the bud's purpose gone!

He made me! He took me, soft and approximate as I was and blew the world into me. He put coals in my mouth and filled my hair with marble dust so I looked as white as one of his angels. But I was not his angel. I am rooted in the earth.

I'm angry.

I'm angry. My anger is an ache.

My lungs are full of howls, howls howling over each other.

What right did you have? You, you of all men, who let the slaves go free from the mill to run singing into the field, and the schoolboy! And the bonds and chains and taskmasters you dissolved into nothing. ...

And here I am! Your helpmate ... your Kate ... Bonded to nothing.

How I ache. How I ache.


These men who offer me charity for your sake, they honoured you and loved you. They took me for your maid when they first came and knocked on the door. And one of them took the bell pull to his mouth and kissed it. Funny young men! They honoured you and you swelled in the veneration, and I loved them then.

I hate them now, taunting me with their limbs and their eyes. They are more of your absence.

The more time they occupy the less you do.

Where are you? Where have you gone?


Your death comes and counsels me.

It has a milky voice, it has a broken voice

it folds me in its pale arms and bids me

Think woman! Think of me.

I am suddenness.

I am the noise of cutting cloth so the remnant falls into a shivering heap.

I am colour in reverse and poetry backwards.

I pare away the ugly old past.

I seal every backwater with an iron till the tree of memory is a stump in you.

Put away that likeness in your head, old woman. It will cause more pain. Turn its face to the wall.

Think of me! Don't think of him.


How I ache. Oh how I ache


No. I say. No. Give me my despair.

I wish and feel and weep and while I weep I delight.

I remember everything.

Breathes deep

I remember how you taught me many things. When I met you a thousand years ago and that is not extravagant because you knew how to press on time and release it from its skin to grow you knew that about time and all manner of other wisdoms and how to release the sky from the indignant thistle, and colour from powder and line from copper and sense from letters which danced like demons on the page. And I refused to be tamed by you except in love. But one day I was scolding sweet Robert, your brother, and you said I should never see your face again unless I knelt on the floor and begged his forgiveness.

How hard it was then when I was still bent on winning the struggle though you told me later that I was fighting my own angel, couldn't I see it plain as daylight grappling with me and its heavenly face as pettish as mine

No I said in astonishment what angel, so you drew it for me on a scrap of paper as if we were a pillar and one creature, winged like a cup handle, and you locked me in your arms and said, look he is dissolving like salt and now we will struggle instead, but the struggle was a dance and we whirled about till the bottles rang on the shelves and laughed and laughed in exaltation.

So you freed me from the angel and you taught me what you knew so I should never bow to you I should be your equal in all practical matters and thenceforth you gave me a free hand to colour, and even draw which I willingly did. And I stitched and bound your books, and I cut the linen and polished the plates and made up inks and did all the work of an engraver at your side.

See my hands? Here. Look.

You said they were the hands of a craftsman.

Where to put them? (She rubs her body with them) They have never lain so long in my lap. They begin to gnaw at the air. (She lays them palm up on her lap) Two twisted vessels. All the craft trickles out of them ...

All day they worked, these memory-hands. And he was beside me, working with his graver, or printing at the press. I don't remember once that he faltered, or considered how or what or why. He wrote and drew and painted as if something else painted through him and I coloured and sometimes drew as if he was drawing through me, and humility was in both of us, because we were instruments and equal in our apprenticeship.


No time for death. No. Death had no business nosing around. Caught you says death if you stand still. That's why children never catch their death, they are too quick for death, they slip past it, and if they don't then the angels come and release them. He called down to them innocent creatures and drew them little portraits on slips of paper I wished for children.

I wished and wished. I patted their sprite heads and pulled them to me, their ghostly bodies, lifted them weightless into my lap and dandled their spirits. But God had put me on the earth for other things. God had put me on the earth to be an instrument and a companion.

And a lover.

I bore him no children, he was my child and I was his, and we were to each other brother and sister, parent and child, man and wife.

And when we made love we made love threefold. Across the generations and the sexes and the sacred prohibitions. And we made love as one.

I didn't know what love was. Nor did he. We were each other's pupils. And he sat brooding and looking and then threw himself down and wept that every shred of him was a harlot

but that I understood

I was wiser than he and I took his hand and told him

Between two moments bliss is ripe

He looked, his eyes shone how can this be sinful he cried

Generous love, how can we feel shame

there is no shame in this love, but only in self-love that envies

watching with its lamplike eyes the frozen marriage bed

but our narrow bed is warm and close

and two Gods dwell there, that's what he said.

Come and lie with me, Kate, come now to bed.


She shivers

Come now to bed.


My bed is empty. Where are you?

My bed is empty.

They have made me up a bed in a downstairs room because I cannot walk far and the bed is clean and white so I lie in it obediently knowing that it is to be my winding cloth

The old woman can't sleep

Give her valerian

The old woman can't sleep for remembering

Give her morphine

The old woman is a cold rock in black space

Give her back the sun


The walls are wordless. There is a clock ticking.

I have woken up from a dream of abundant colour and joy

I see his face and he is a shepherd and a piper and a god

I see him bent by the grate, setting the fire, and he is a fallen demon

I see him listening to the wind and sorrowing

I see wrath and misery, fire and desolation

A thousand fires in ancient London

And then the grass comes silent silent with the hardest colour of all

The mirth colour the corn colour the summer night colour

A thousand thousand summer nights pass

And children weave their daisy chains and place them on the heads of fallen idols

He wept he wept more tears than there were days

And never chained the door lest, he said, we drive an angel from it

And every morning he dipped his brush in wrath and mildness

And out of him tumbled the biggest things of all

All of them righter than the rightest calculation

And truer than any compass

Yet where they were right and true none could say

And how they were right and true none could guess

But I knew I knew

He was an eye, and the eye wept and frowned and smiled

The eye watched

The eye watered

The world was a mote in that eye

The mote was a world in that eye

And his brush was a blade and his tears made a lake.

How I ache how I ache


Sole partner and sole part of all these joyes he read to me in the summer house where we sat when Mr Butts came knocking and found us naked reading as we read every warm day the poor man liked to tell that story to everyone as proof of the wildness of our life though it never did seem wild to me but consistent in all respects and full of holy sobriety which looks to the untrained eye like wild joy

William stood then and made a deep bow to Satan who had been watching and said you are welcome to our garden sir Satan had a round sad face like a waterwheel and seemed tired and full of pity, he wore his rainbow snake around him and when he saw we meant him no harm he bowed and shrivelled to a vapour

But Mr Butts came in and ate some grapes


Have no fear Satan, said William, we will not harm you

Yet all about us

war drifted from year to year like the seeds of weeds in autumn

and the looms made sails for warships, and the furnaces cast cannon balls

men trained their horses to run towards death

all around us in schools and churches and meeting halls

corpses marched their filthy regular steps

and men spoke about it and the words themselves in pain, the words


for new life, the words wanted mercy

and in the midst of all this a clearing in Lambeth and South Molton Street and Fountain Court and a torrent of such wrathful innocence pours forth, such light that violence staggered, violence fell back

a spider a worm a beetle could approach it

but violence could not

an ant could find his children by it

but violence could not

And I tended that light

And he was the light


Who was I? And who was he?

I don't know!

Who was he?

I don't know!

Was he? Was he? The years passed in an eye-blink

They scrolled themselves up and were gone

The days are gone back to their creation

Was he? Or did I dream him?

Do these dreams make me who I am?

Who am I? Who am I?

A nothing left in darkness yet I am an identity

Terrible terrible


I have no strength in me

I am an old woman and she aches

How I ache

How I ache

The OLD WOMAN subsides, her head on her breast, for a few moments

What is this nothing beating at me?

I am —


I am —

Say it!

The shrivelled fruit that remains in the grass after the tree is felled

Remembrance but no inspiration

The cut flower which will not grow again in the grass


The ditch the stream has forsaken

But no inspiration


I must dig deeper and deeper into my heart to find him, and it is no longer him

It is a story of him which will not serve I must bring him forth

And bring him forth for ever


His song in me. Is it my song?

Am I his song?

There was a song and he sung it but I sung it better

And a design which he taught me to see

And I saw it too

It was not a hard design, it was pale like flesh

It streamed in its hair and its limbs

Distorted in birth and death pang and horror

And quiet serene in the garden of affections

I looked across at him and he did not see me

He was talking then with the angel who had sat for Michelangelo and as I watched he nodded in understanding and that nod placed me then and there amongst the apostates I lay on the grass and the desert was all around me and even the devil would not come but my father the market gardener surveyed the land and called to me that even the desert would feed Battersea if enough dung could be brought from the city

I want to see!

Pray then.

But whenever I start a prayer which is one long thought burying itself like a river in the porous mind until all that can be heard is sacred underground water

whenever I start a prayer

I remember commissions and shopping and the new pumice and a little twist of tobacco I bought for William and how the red pigment is like blood and whether the neighbours will cease their fighting and did I put out anything small for the cat that curls up on the worn porch with its matted flea-ridden flank under the London sun


The angel lifts up it was Gabriel says William but he is too busy to hang around for long and the sky is bright with Gabriel rising over the Thames like a firework I want to see!

Pray then.

But my skull is as hard as a rock, there are no gates for prayers and angels, and I am all jealous within

Well sing then, says William, or draw or come here to me and kiss me

So we draw, draw for hours and he draws me his emanation sulking moth-like on an open flower moth-apostate moth-survivor I want to see!



I promise you will see, one day!


I promise, Kate, and he put his arms around me and whispered hold fast to that which is good, and which of us is the angel now?

You, Kate, you are the angel.


We were of the devil's party.

Lustful, wrathful, naked.

The bird's airy senses the earthfulness of the worm

Truth! Wept over with the excess of joy

Truth! Never understood, only believed

I understood nothing (he chose me well)

From the beginning I believed and he breathed

Belief belief belief into me

And he gave my lungs air to breathe

Believe believe believe

I believed believed believed

But still I never saw.


Apart. From him

And our apartness was Moses

Peter, Paul and the hosts and hosts of angels

Dancing in our workshop, on the bed heads

Watching from the window seats and the door jambs

Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, grave as shillings and more frequent

And he met them as an equal

Fra Angelico Raphael

He welcomed them alone

Alone alone

He bowed to them

And still I never saw

And I breathed

Believe believe believe

Alone alone alone


I am choking.

Was I always alone?

Have I come to this?

Was it just him?


(whispers, as if from a distance) Kate, hold fast to me, Kate ...

William! Where are you?

Stay Kate! Keep as you are! You have ever been an angel to me!


Pause. The dark kitchen. The Old Woman.

(whispers) William ...

The crow, the crow lets fall his love

But you are eagle and wren and dove

William ...

Was I

Was I an angel?

Beloved Kate.

Weren't you listening to me?

Were you sorrowing and not listening?


Listen now Kate

You will never be parted from me.

I hear you now, William. I see now ...

I see



Excerpted from "Joy"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Sasha Dugdale.
Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
The Widow and the Kaleidoscope,
The Ballad of Mabel,
'Tonight I thought of you ...',
'Do you remember how we chanced upon a home ...',
The Canoe,
Cutting Apples,
Ironing the Spider,
The Ballad of the Sewing Kit,
Pfingsten in Paterki,
How my friend went to look for her roots,
Mappa Mundi,
The Daughter of a Widow,
For Edward Thomas,
About the Author,
Also by Sasha Dugdale,

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